L.A. Times series ‘Grading the teachers’ wins 2010 Philip Meyer Journalism Award

The Los Angeles Times took top honors today in the 2010 Philip Meyer Journalism Award competition for its “Grading the teachers” series last fall. The award, which comes with a check for $500, is given by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (a joint program of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Missouri School of Journalism) and the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

A grant from The Hechinger Report helped fund the analysis — completed by senior economist Richard Buddin of RAND — on which the Times based its series. (The Report did not participate in the analysis.)

The Philip Meyer Award “recognizes the best uses of social science methods in journalism,” according to an announcement by Investigative Reporters and Editors, and it will be presented on February 25th at the 2011 Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference in Raleigh, N.C. Second place, for a 12-month investigation entitled “Sexual Assault on Campus,” went to a collaboration of seven news organizations led by The Center for Public Integrity. The Orange Country Register, in Southern California, won third prize for its four-part series “Immigration and California.”

In addition to Buddin of RAND, those cited for their work on the Los Angeles Times series include Jason Felch, Jason Song, Doug Smith, Sandra Poindexter, Ken Schwencke, Julie Marquis, Beth Shuster, Stephanie Ferrell and Thomas Lauder.

The Times series, which includes answers to frequently-asked questions about value-added analysis,  also has been translated into Spanish.

Additionally, The Hechinger Report has created a “GO DEEP” page for readers interested in exploring the topic of teacher evaluations more broadly.

Here is the full award citation for the Times:

“‘Grading the Teachers’ is a first-rate example of strong watchdog story-telling combined with innovative use of social science methods. Indeed, the point of the project was the failure of Los Angeles school officials to use effective methods to measure the performance of classroom teachers. The Los Angeles Times, applying a method called gain-score analysis to a huge database of individual students’ test scores and their teachers, identified the most and least effective teachers based on how much the students’ scores improved. The Times hired a national expert in gain-score analysis to do the data crunching, adding credibility to the results, but also did additional statistical analysis to identify high- and low-performing schools and otherwise verify their findings. In identifying and rating 6,000 teachers by name, the Times outraged the teachers’ union, but the series has prompted district officials to begin negotiating with the union to use the gain-score method in evaluations. Another sign of the impact of this series is that newspapers across the country have begun requesting similar data from local school districts.”